Digital Domain, Icon hatch big-budget feature ‘Cranes’

Gibson's prod'n co., f/x studio partner for pic

Giving flight to its first in-house feature, “A Thousand Cranes,” f/x studio Digital Domain has partnered with Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods. to co-develop and co-produce the roughly $70 million epic love story set in Japan during the final days of World War II.

In the first move to come out of the pairing, John Patrick Shanley (“Moonstruck,” “Alive”) has inked to pen the project, based on a treatment by Digital Domain CEO Scott Ross. Pic is on the fast track to go before cameras early next year.

“Cranes” is part of Digital Domain’s recent move to develop and produce its own slate of pics inhouse, hoping not only to own but to generate revenues from its library of pics and expand beyond the risky f/x biz.

Digital Domain is currently creating visuals for Fox’s “X-Men,” Universal’s “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and Warner Bros.’ “Red Planet.”

Other major f/x houses have also proclaimed they will enter the arena — Manex Visual Effects (“The Matrix”), Rhythm & Hues (“End of Days”) — but none of their projects has yet to get off the ground.

For “Cranes,” Ross brought pic’s idea to Icon prexy Bruce Davey, based on the Paramount Pictures lot, to partner on the development of the project and share producing duties.

“Digital Domain’s credits speak for themselves,” Davey said. “We are delighted to be partnering with them on this project.”

Icon and Shanley are a major coup for Digital Domain, which only officially launched its feature development unit in October, under the direction of veep Kevin Cooper, to set up pics with other production companies and bring in the projects under budget by creating all of the f/x inhouse.

Cooper will oversee “Cranes'” development for Digital Domain.

Karen Glasser, veep of creative affairs, and Kevin Lake, director of development, will oversee the project at Icon.

“We are very excited to be in business with a powerhouse like Icon,” Ross said. “They have great taste, relationships and make world-class entertainment.

“John has a wonderful way of painting dynamic characters, which is just what we need to bring this watershed moment in history to the bigscreen.”

Development plans

Other pics in development include comedy “Senior Agent Man,” with Penny Marshall’s Parkway Prods. inking last week to co-produce; historical drama “Johanna,” with Joni Sighvatsson’s Palomar Pictures; and Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures on the sci-fi thriller, “Software.”

All pics are currently in the scripting stages, as is a “Sinbad” feature and tech-heavy “Nowhere Man,” also based on a treatment by Ross.

Financing for “Cranes” is coming from a set of undisclosed private investors that Ross has culled.

Digital Domain recently negotiated a $5 million film production fund with Pentamedia, an Indian software powerhouse, to further develop new projects being slated.

The funding will not be part of “Cranes” but may be used as part of Digital Domain’s plans to develop a series of digital video features in the $500,000 range, the first of which will shoot in December. Digital Domain would provide f/x work that could reach as high $1 million for each.

Features in future

“We’re delighted to be so far along and working with some of the most important filmmakers in Hollywood after just opening our doors in October,” Cooper said. “Our goal is to continue to develop and produce a dynamic slate of feature films that are not necessarily reliant on traditional visual effects but tell great stories for broad mainstream audiences.

“Our goal has always been to partner up with an established player. Yes, we’re a visual effects company, but we want to do our own films. So far, people are taking us seriously. It’s all about relationships and educating people what our mandate is. It’s a lot easier for me coming from Fox.”

Shanley has previously written “Congo” and “Five Corners” and plays “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Italian American Reconciliation,” “Savage in Limbo” and “Four Dogs and a Bone.”

His deal was brokered by CAA and attorney Harold Brown with Digital Domain’s Cooper and senior veep Brad Call and Kenneth Suddelson of Katten, Muchin and Zavis.

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